Phoenix Coyotes Roundtable: Offseason Changes Paying Off (with Matt McConnell)

Christian Petersen

Coyotes play by play announcer Matt McConnell joins us to discuss the Yotes' power play, defense and whether advanced stats should be a part of hockey broadcasts.

Besides the addition of Newell Brown behind the bench, what best explains the success of the Coyotes' power play?

Matt McConnell: Coach Brown deserves a lot of credit for the resurrection of the team's power play. In addition, I think there are a couple of other factors that have helped the unit. First, puck movement on the power play has been terrific over the first quarter of the season. The team's front net presence with players like Martin Hanzal and Shane Doan has made a big difference. Options from the point with players like Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson have contributed to the cause, not to mention quarterback like Mike Ribeiro. And I like the fact that coach Tippett has loaded up his first unit with the best options available to him. All of these factors are why the power play has been one of the best in the league.

Brendan Porter: One area that the Coyotes have improved markedly over from last year is the number of power play opportunities. In the last full season, the Coyotes averaged just slightly above three power play opportunities per game, good enough for 24th in the league. This year they are averaging about 3.6 power play opportunities per game, which is 9th in the league. The more you go on the man advantage, the more consistently you get to work it in game situations and the more likely you are to score.

Barbie4Yotes: I think it's 95 percent due to the addition of Newell Brown. Here's an interesting stat: One-quarter of the season is over and the Coyotes have 100 shots on goal during the power play. That's one third the total for PP SOG for the whole 2011-12 season. I often joke that I like to yell "shoot the puck!" while watching the games. Clearly that message is getting through so I'll take the credit for that other five percent.

Will Sowards: While I feel Newell should get most of the credit, I think a lot goes to Mike Ribeiro as well. He has been directly involved in almost half of the power play goals so far this season. Though this only accounts for a part of the Coyotes success, I truly believe that having a player who has had as much success on the PP like Ribeiro has, is enough to help boost a team.

How does this year's team compare to other years in talent, chemistry and attitude?

Matt: This is my third season calling Coyotes games, so I've seen the evolution of the club from their "shock the world" mentality of two seasons ago when they went to the Western Conference Finals to this seasons version of stability and purpose. I don't think there's any question this team has more talent than the one that come within three games of playing for the Stanley Cup in 2011-12. And since I arrived prior to that season, the constant within the organization has been an unwavering belief in the sum of the parts, not individual pieces. This is driven home on a daily basis by general manager Don Maloney and communicated in the locker room by Tippett and Doan. In my 18 seasons being around NHL teams, I've never seen the level of leadership that I've seen in this organization since arriving in the Valley. They've overcome plenty in the past few seasons and now they're poised for a successful run for quite some time.

Jaime Eisner: A couple new things have culminated in the Coyotes' success so far this season -- AHL development and new ownership. Leadership from the coaches and the players kept this team together as the business side of the team crumbled. Now with new ownership, that leadership is passed along with far less fear and more talent in the dressing room. The long-term signing of Ribeiro coupled with the re-signing of their starting goaltender, has lead to a team that's finally able to build on past successes instead of constantly scrambling to fill major holes with inexpensive players.

Ray Edwards and his staff in Portland have done an amazing job making sure their players are not only capable of playing in the NHL when called upon, but thrive. Jordan Szwarz, Andy Miele, David Rundblad, Connor Murphy and Tim Kennedy have all made an impact when called upon this season. Players Edwards coached to start last season, like Rob Klinkhammer and Michael Stone, are now mainstays on the NHL roster. Phoenix is finally getting significant value out of their system and it's helping them right now at the NHL level.

Barbie4Yotes: Every year, the Tippett system requires that the players exhibit a workman like attitude. There's little room for ego, every teammate is expected to chip in. They thrive on watching each other succeed. In watching the early season interviews with Ribeiro, you can count the number of times he says, "I." He didn't start having success as a Coyote until he dropped the "I" and changed to "we." So while the talent is similar year over year, the attitude and chemistry is better especially since the ownership factor is gone.

Do you think that the realignment has benefited the Coyotes or will the Pacific Division's toughness hurt them in the end?

Matt: I'm a believer that playing tough competition makes you a better team and prepares you for the ultimate goal of having success in the post-season. Without a doubt, the Pacific Division has been the toughest in the circuit through the first quarter of the season. But the Coyotes have hung tough throughout. And I truly believe this will help them in the long run. From a business standpoint, I love the division. Pacific Division opponents have been popular draws in the past, especially the Canadian teams that join the group this season and are followed by snowbirds that make Arizona their winter homes. From a television standpoint, the majority divisional games will be seen in the primetime slot, which is great for the fans.

Will: If history shows anything it's that this will probably hurt them. If you look back in franchise history to the Winnipeg times, you'll see a very similar division that rarely had the Jets going further than the first round of playoffs. With strong teams in California and Vancouver, the Coyotes have already faced a tough division calendar. If current standings hold, it's only going to get more interesting as the season (and playoffs) go on.

Brendan: I think it will hurt them. The Coyotes have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, but it's difficult to imagine they're going to be able to maintain that level of success throughout the entire season. Having to play Anaheim/San Jose/Los Angeles/Vancouver more than anyone else in the league is going to be tougher than if they were in a division like the Metropolitan. Plus, the new playoff format all but guarantees the Coyotes play a Pacific Division team in the 1st and 2nd rounds if they make the playoffs. That's going to be a big challenge.

Carl Putnam: I think playing in probably the best division in the NHL helps assuming the Coyotes make the playoffs. They will have had to garner a ton of points and will already be battle tested. However, given the current scheduling format (teams play every other squad at least twice) I think the value could be slightly oversold.

What does Phoenix need to do to bring down its goals against average?

Matt: That's a very good question. The obvious answer is to figure out a way to cut down on it's shots against totals. Mike Smith has faced more shots than any other goaltender over the team's first 20 games. Part of their strategy is to play with the puck up the ice instead of defending as much as they have. Also, keep in mind goal scoring in the Western Conference is up considerably this season over their counterparts in the East, which I think has something to do with it. But it's well known head coach Dave Tippett isn't a fan of wide open, high scoring games that lack defensive consistency. So look for him to continue his mandate on tightening up the defensive play.

Carl: This all all going to sound like Hockey 101. The most obvious answer is to defend better. This means making smarter decisions on the ice and playing sound positional hockey. While there have certainly been breakdowns and poor coverage in the D zone, I haven't seen this as the major issue creating the high goals against number. Defending better means not just playing well without the puck, it means playing well with the puck. Just the combination of spending more of their games in possession of the puck and turning the rubber over less would likely reduce the team's goals against number significantly. In other words, less rubber on Mike Smith and more on the opposing goalies.

Barbie4Yotes: They need to stop allowing forty shots on goal. Period. When you look at the last regular (full) season, they've fallen from a very respectable 2.37 to the current YTD 3.05. A stronger defensive system and the addition of some bigger D may help. Let's face it; while OEL is skilled, he weighs little more than the average high school sophomore. Opposing teams are afraid to face Mike Smith but not our D.

Do you think advanced stats have a place in the broadcast booth during games or do you think they're best communicated in written form?

Matt: I think any way we can make our telecasts more fan friendly, the better off we all are. Hockey fans crave information and I feel we have an obligation to them to incorporate such in building a bond between themselves and the team.

Carl: Absolutely. If you changed the phrase "advanced stats" to "possession numbers" I doubt anyone would blink an eye. The basics of Corsi & Fenwick are just as easy to understand as the traditional numbers used in hockey. Even the different types of Corsi & Fenwick stats such as CorsiQualComp and Fenwick Close are fairly easy to understand because they look at the game in a logical fashion and in ways hockey fans already talk about things like line matching and how teams tend to perform differently when with the lead.

Brendan: The challenge of communicating advanced stats during a broadcast I believe is succinctly explaining their relevance. The importance of shots, hits, and faceoff percentage is pretty self-evident, but explaining why a high Corsi number matters is a little bit harder. As long as it's clear that advanced stats are more or less proxy indicators for puck possession, I think a lot of fans would like having them included in broadcasts.

Will: As a hockey crazed nut advanced stats are amazing but I feel like for the more novice fan it's like wading through a swamp. It's the main reason I don'talways like watching baseball, sometimes it seems to be more about the stats than the game itself. Call the game, give the basic stats as needed and maybe some more advanced items if they are called for but generally I think SOG, hits and faceoff and save percentages are enough to cover most bases.

Barbie4Yotes: We are trying to gain more new fans and I think utilizing advanced stats in the broadcast booth will turn them off. Let those new fans master the nuances of hybrid icing first, then we can ease them into the more tedious metrics.

Jaime: Yes. Many of these stats are quite simple to explain and understand. Corsi and Fenwick are just possession based statistics. Buffalo's broadcast has talked about Corsi often and San Jose's broadcast has used shot attempts in its intermission stats overview. Any tool that helps the viewer understand the game better is a good thing.

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